WINTHROP — The stickers — a simple blue oval with ‘CR’, ‘In Loving Memory’ and the outline of a heart covered with footprints, all in white — were placed on the bottom right side of the Danvers High football helmets.
They just as easily could have been placed over the Danvers High football players’ hearts.
Playing for the first time since Colleen Ritzer, a 24-year-old math teacher at the high school, was murdered at the school five days earlier, the Falcons took to the gridiron Saturday night. Putting aside the horrific events of the week, they defeated host Winthrop 39-27 before a large crowd on a chilly night at Miller Field.
“It was obviously tough with everything that happened this week,” said Danvers High captain Alex Valles, whose team won its sixth straight game. “But we had to rally around each other, and we knew the town would rally around us.”
It has been an emotionally draining and physically exhausting seven days for Danvers High students, faculty, administration, parents and townsfolk. The shocking death of the much-beloved Ritzer — whom Danvers football coach Sean Rogers estimates half his team either had as a math teacher, in study hall or knew her in some fashion — has left this picture-perfect town with an enormous void.
Athletics, said Rogers, has been a way for his team (and others at the school) to escape from the awful realities of late, even if only for a few hours. Saturday night, his playoff-bound Northeastern Conference South champions certainly did that while also honoring Ritzer’s memory.
“It was tough at the beginning ... a tough thing to go through,” said junior Cris Valles, who had Ritzer as a teacher.
“To me, (winning) was something I wanted to do personally (for Ritzer) ... I’m sure everyone else felt the same way.”